Hey there, ChipWINners! Welcome back to Quick Shots: the album review column in which I break down the finer points of some of the latest releases in the scene, then give you a numerical TL;DR to help you determine if a record is right for you. This month, I have two albums up for review that explore spaces I’ve yet to discuss on the blog. One is a metal album that incorporates vocals via the Hatsune Miku Vocaloid software, and has incredibly powerful lyrics. The other is an album from an accomplished pianist who has composed a very stirring concept album using the tracker software in the Pico-8 virtual console. Both albums albums caught me off guard and have a lot to offer their respective audiences. That said, let’s not waste anymore time! Sit back, relax, and plug in those headphones as I take the time to review the latest from 8-Bit Hero and Gruber.
‘Among Angels’ by 8-Bit Hero
Hailing from Borger, Texas, 8-Bit Hero is a musician who is best known for covers of music from games such as Undertale, including a rather touching cover of the eponymous track of the game that’s up on his Youtube channel. Having put out a steady stream of music on Bandcamp since March of this year, 8BH has recently released a six track EP that shows off a particular combination of music I’ve not taken the time to indulge in, but am pleasantly surprised by: Vocaloid metal. Metal is something I’m no stranger to. From alternative bands such as Filter to the complex melodies of chip artists such as Danimal Cannon, metal has always been a place of comfort. Vocaloid, however, is something I’ve not dived into as much, as nightcore turned me off of the software pretty quickly. However, thanks to 8-Bit Hero’s stunning instrumentation, I’ve found a deeper appreciation for Vocaloid, and I think you will, as well.
‘Among Angels’ is an EP that has stronger leanings to rock that it does to EDM. As such, the album’s chiptune offerings are minimal, as the they often work as an addition to much larger compositions, as opposed to being the focus of the music. Thus, if you’re looking for something that fills the space in between Infinity Shred releases, you might be out of luck, as ‘Among Angels’ doesn’t quite scratch that itch other chiprock acts do. If, however, you’re simply in the mood for good metal and prog rock, it’s hard to go wrong with this EP. From the moment the intense, triumphant guitar joins the opening piano chords and strings on the opening track, ‘Among the Angels’, 8-Bit Hero makes it very clear that he’s here to leave his mark on the scene. This piece of aria is highly reminiscent of work by math rock bands like Maybeshewill, as the song invokes the same intensity ‘He Films the Clouds‘ does in its overall presentation.
From there, the album gets heavier and more Vocaloid centric, as ‘Among the Angels’ is one of only two instrumental tracks on the album. The EP’s second track, ‘Breathe’, is among the more experimental songs the record. Although it has a strong focus on the guitar and piano instrumentation accompanying the vocals, it also features a very unique synth melody working through it that is quite haunting. Additionally, the song features some rather dark lyrics that stand in stark contrast to Hatsune’s voice. They touch on themes of betrayal, pain, and inner strength in ways that are very impressive. This strength as a lyricist is one I wasn’t expecting from 8-Bit Hero, and isn’t limited to ‘Breathe’, either. Every song on the record that features Vocaloid on the EP tackles subject matter ranging from toxic love to finding hope in memories of loved ones. While all the tracks on this album are worthy of praise, the one that always sticks out to me is ‘Dawn’. The song is unique in that there are moments in which Hatsune’s voice sound purposefully out of tune against the wailing guitar. This makes for a striking aria that is impressively memorable. In addition, this piece of music has the most positive, hopeful lyrics on the album, and I can’t help but admire the message relayed by them.
‘Among Angels’ closes with two rather soft tracks that show off an unexpected amount of versatility on 8-Bit Hero’s behalf. ‘A Smile Worth Protecting’ is a gentle, ethereal piece that carries on the hopeful vibe of ‘Dawn’. This is then followed up by an acoustic cover of an earlier track, ‘My Angel’. ‘My Angel’ is a song of promise between two people who vow to be close enough to one another to make even God jealous, and has one of the best guitar solos on the album. The contrast between the original and the acoustic cover the album closes with is one of the best decisions I’ve seen an artist make for a closing track in a long time. It is an excellent display of 8-Bit Hero’s understanding of track placement and album flow, and adds a final layer of appreciation for both him and the album.
‘Among Angels’ is a deeply satisfying album. It may not scratch every itch for chiprock, as its chip offerings aren’t as strong as those one would find with (T_T)b or the J. Arthur Keenes band. If, however, you’re in the mood for good rock, stunning Vocaloid, or even an album that might change your mind about the latter, this is the album for you. At a dollar a track, the album is definitely worth its asking price. You’d be hard pressed to find much better in the community as far as Vocaloid metal is concerned.
Favorite Tracks: ‘My Angel’, ‘Dawn’
Bang for Buck: 4/5
Replay value: 4.5/5
Overall grade: 4.3/5
‘The Last Bot’ by Gruber
Up next on the chopping block is an artist who simply calls himself Gruber. Hailing from Toronto, Canada, Gruber is an artist who is more famously known by his legal name, Chris Donnelly: a man who is renowned for his skills as a soulful jazz pianist. Having a solid background in traditional musical instrumentation and sound design, Gruber makes a stunning debut as a chiptune artist with ‘The Last Bot’. Composed entirely on the tracker software in the Pico-8 virtual console, Gruber tells the tale of a robot who is the sole survivor of his world. Upon awakening and discovering it’s alone, it sets out on a journey to find itself and a new home. In the process, the bot bares witness to several wonders that cause it to ponder the meaning of its existence as the last remnant of its home planet.
From the opening, dissonant notes of ‘Prelude’, Gruber manages to enrapture audiences immediately. The lullaby lures people into a place of comfort, as it opens the listener’s mind to the possibilities that deep space has to offer. As the brief aria comes to an end, the album’s tone takes a drastic shift in ‘Fallout’, a much darker song than ‘Prelude’ that utlizes gritty, subtle static and noise channel drums. These persist on their own until a surprisingly funky melody comes in. This track is one I’m rather fond of as it’s the first strong display of Gruber’s talent as a composer, as noise transitions to funk, which slowly gives way to syncopated, off kilter chords that create an incredible sense of panic and uneasiness. As the melody breaks down, much like a computer on the fritz, it picks back up again as the album flows into ‘Bot Online’. ‘Bot Online’ mimics the trepidation and slowness of birth in an uncertain world, as the titular bot’s slow, nascent pulses of life are mimicked wonderfully by the slide whistle notes. As it yawns and stretches into existence to realize it’s alone, a sense of desolation builds up. This loneliness is one that is rivaled only by lpower’s ‘Overworld 1‘ on Pterodactyl Squad‘s ‘Baby Pterodactyl’ compilation album.
This aura of trepidation Gruber establishes persists in ‘Journey to the Faraway Lands’, as the last bot explores places far from his birthing capsule on his decayed home world. Gruber’s brilliant use of arpeggiated pulse waves and laser sound effects interweave with a disparate, twinkling melody that adds an eerie sense of claustrophobia to the track. These haunting circumstances pervade as the album flows into ‘Ableton Assembly’. The song maintains the creepiness of the prior, but then pulls a DEADBEATBLAST and goes full on ‘Total Disaster‘, as a cacophony of noise and sound effects comes to a head when a sick beat drops. The result is a surprising banger on an album that has been steadfast in maintaining its eerie ambiance, and is a welcome change of pace. This uneasiness is broken up even more with ‘Flashback Robot’, which offers both the audience a brief respite that is redolent of ‘Prelude’ before the album takes a turn for the menacing.
‘The Root of Sin’ represents a point in The Last Bot’s journey in which the automaton comes across a dark planet that is, for all intents and purposes, Hell. Gruber makes it a point to be very straightforward about this fact, as the song features low growls, grumbling static, and sparse, twinkling pulses that are meant to cause an intense, disquieting sense of uneasiness in the listener. After the little bot passes ‘The Root of Sin’, the album wraps up on a more adventurous and hopeful note. ‘Planet Fever’ captures a sense of excitement, as it reflects the point in the bot’s journey in which, after light years of travel, it might have finally found a place that it can finally call home. The track’s twinkling melody dances along the back of a lead that’s at times is reminiscent of work by Daniel Capo and Kenji Yamazaki. In particular, this song has a vibe to it that feels very much like the ending credits theme Kenji composed for the Game Boy port of Mega Man II in that it is filled with moments that feel utterly triumphant. The album concludes with the aptly named ‘Reflection’ which allows the audience to do just that, as it acts as a prologue to a stunning auditory experience.
‘The Last Bot’ is a powerful debut from an artist that already has high standards to live up to. From moments of despair and isolation to quiet, meditative clips of time, Gruber proves himself as a force to be reckoned with in the chiptune community. Not only does he have the skill to make an impressive album, but I’d be surprised if he somehow evades offers to compose for a large scale game, because he definitely has the talent to do so. Keep an eye out for this one, guys: he’s going to go far, and you’re gonna wanna be there for the journey.
Favorite Track: ‘Planet Fever’
Bang for Buck: 4.5/5
Replay value: 4/5
Overall Grade: 4.2/5
Well, folks, that does it for this month’s edition of Quick Shots! Thanks for tuning in. If you like any of the artists featured in this article, feel free to follow them on social media for the latest from them. Don’t forget to keep up with us on the blog, as we post new content every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Last but not least, if you’re an artist who’s yet to get recognition for your work, I encourage you to keep doing what you do, cause you never know when Kuma-senpai is gonna notice you.
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